Incredibly inspirational, “Unbroken” finally tells the unbelievable true story of USA Olympian and WWII veteran Louis "Louie" Zamperini, who just passed away in 2014. Based on the non-fiction book of the same title, written by Laura Hillenbrand (“Seabiscuit”), the screenplay is credited to Joel and Ethan Coen, whose flair for style and pushing boundaries is nowhere to be seen in the adaptation to the screen. Newcomer Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini, proving to have a bright future ahead of him, with the face that makes him perfect for Hollywood and the talent to back it up. Director Angelina Jolie and cinematographer Roger Deakins painstakingly deliver the unbearable gauntlet of misery that Zamperini endured including a plane crash into the ocean, surviving 47 days on a raft with sharks circling below and Japanese bombers firing from above, and withstanding the cruel treatment in a Japanese Prisoner Of War camp in Tokyo. How one man can tolerate so much hardship in such a short period of time is baffling.
Familiar faces pop up throughout the film, offering strong supporting performances, including Domhnall Glesson as Zamperini’s pilot friend, Russell “Phil” Phillips, Jai Courtney as co-pilot Hugh “Cup” Cuppernell, and Garrett Hedlund and Luke Treadaway as fellow POWs John Fitzgerald and Miller. The true supporting star is Japanese singer-songwriter Miyavi, who plays the POW villain, Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe. His hellish turn provides an award caliber antagonist for the second half of the film. This being only Jolie’s second time directing a feature, some visual and structural stylings fall through the cracks, as the visuals create an overproduced veneer that leaves a disconnect from the characters and a flashback structure that is abandoned after the first act. Taking very little chances and playing safe with every aspect of the film, from its character development to its shot choice, Jolie shows her inexperience, begging the question how deeper this film could have been in the hands of Steve McQueen or even the Coen Brothers. Regardless of who’s telling the story, however, experiencing Zamperini’s trials, seeing actual pictures of him returning from the war, and realizing he lived to see this film completed is a humbling experience and an unforgettable testament to the true power of human will.
Three-and-a-half stars out five.
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